Wednesday, 6 April 2005

Puerto Carenero, Venezuela, April 3rd 2005

White Admiral is back up on the hard, washed and cared for, sails, dinghy, ropes and shackles all rinsed with fresh water and packed away for summer storage. We are in Asterillo de Higuerote, a small yard mostly used by motor boat owners from Caracas, but we heard from anther catamaran that it was a good place for sail boats too. It has certainly been a pleasant experience to come here, we seem to be the only foreign yacht at the moment, and have had fantastic service, with the owner herself making sure that everything goes to plan. We have arranged to have the deck painted while we are away, so White Admiral will be getting a face-lift before we see her again in September.

Return to Tortuga with Jessica

Our last three weeks have mostly been spent back in Tortuga, as the island has been perfect for our Sahara training. Our friend Jessica arrived as planned on 7th March, ready for a ‘Tortuga round cruise’ with us for two weeks. Jessica is now a good new friend of ours, we met her a year ago when we were helping with the transatlantic rowing regatta. Her then 23 year old son, Sam, won the solo class, the youngest person to have rowed solo across an ocean. We felt we had got to know Jessica quite well during her stay in Barbados, and had been impressed with her positive attitude to life, despite having had to fight the illness of multiple myeloma for several years. So we took the chance that she would be an easy guest, and off we went back to Tortuga on the 8th March. The trade-winds are now quite brisk, and seem to blow harder at night, so this was another invigorating (bumpy) sail in over 20 knots of wind (F5-F6), doing about 7 knots, a bit gentler towards dawn, and we arrived at Laguna el Carenero as the sun came up. We remembered this anchorage mainly for the good calamares (squid) we had got the last time, so we did a round of the fishing-boats but nobody had any. However, we bought languster instead and were promised some the next day. And sure enough, a couple of young men turned up early in the morning with a good catch of calamares, and willingly exchanged a bowlful for a bottle of rum. The word must have got around as another boat with young men soon arrived with a bucket of fish, and asked if they could also have a bottle. So this time, we got a few parrot fish and grunts in exchange. As rum is cheap here, this was a good price for the fish, just hope none of them have a drinking problem. From Laguna el Carenero, the walking is pretty rough, over sharp coral rocks and dry scrub-land with cacti which easily give off sharp spikes, but Jessica plodded with us over the rather hostile landscape for part of our long walk, taking a break at a beautiful deserted beach on the way. On the return near sunset we all enjoyed watching the bright green parokeets squaking loudly and nibbling spiky cactus fruits.

More ship wrecks

On the 11th March, we weighed anchor at dawn and motored out the narrow lagoon to go north to Playa Caldera, a more interesting anchorage with the little fishing village, and a much better place for walking. As we motored up the east coast of the island, we expected to see Alba Plena, the Spanish yacht which had gone onto the reef ten days earlier. But no yacht was to be seen, so we presumed they had finally managed to drag her off, until we rounded into the anchorage and saw at the far side of the bay a mastless yacht being pounded by the surf on the beach. ‘They must have pulled her over to the beach to empty out the valuables’ was Stein’s assumption. Great was our surprise when we walked along the beach a little later, to find a distraught French couple, who had broken their mast the night before, lost control of the boat and drifted in a strong gust onto the beach. A nightmarish situation.
Two boats in two weeks grounded in this anchorage! The common factor was that they had both tried to make a night entrance, obviously not a wise thing to do. Fortunately Jessica is a fluent French speaker, so we had much better communication with the couple, Roland and Francoise, than our rusty old school French would have allowed. The next day, the fishermen managed to pull their boat off the beach, and fortunately there was no severe damage to the hull and engine, although a lot of water had come in via a broken window and created a big mess. The few yachties that were in the bay, including ourselves, gave what help we could, eventually getting the broken mast and torn sails back on board. Roland had minor bruises and cuts, well attended by Diana. Through this unfortunate event, we got to know a Canadian/Portuguese couple, Maria and Felix and Maria’s brother Fernando, who were on their annual holiday on their motor launch The Blueberry Jazz. This led to a sociable couple of days, first with a dinner at Moncho’s (the local fisherman/tour agent who seems to help and know everybody) where Maria’s sea snail/fish soup was the prize-winning dish. The next day, we were all taken for a fishing-trip on the motor launch, a good chance for Roland and Francoise to relax after the trauma of their going aground, and the men did some spear-fishing, both Stein and Roland getting a catch. We took the fish to White Admiral and all came for an evening in our cockpit with baked fish in asparagus sauce – great!

A hooked finger!

There was even more drama on this day, when we were returning from the fishing trip, Moncho came speeding up in his boat and told us that somebody needed a doctor! We followed him back to the bay, wondering if one of the portly French we had met on the other catamaran had had a heart attack, but no, one of them had got a fish-hook deep in one of his fingers. This sounds like a job for me, I said, and we got ‘Pickwick’ (his nick-name) on board. There was indeed a fish-hook well imbedded in the pulp of one finger. I gave him a block anaesthesia of the finger, and had to enlarge the opening to get the hook out. It healed very well with no infection, so he was pleased with the treatment. This resulted in strong cocktails aboard ‘Le Pointe Bleu’ the next evening. They also spent hours installed a copy of their electronic charts on our PC, an edition that is much more accurate than the ones we have, so that was a good present in exchange for the little medical help! We still managed to carry out our planned walking trips amongst all this activity, this time along endless sandy beaches and some cliff areas, Jessica walking some of the way with us each time. We left Playa Caldera on the 17th March, after what had been an unusually dramatic and sociable week. That is the great thing abut this sailing life, you never know who you are going to meet or what is going to happen!
The next anchorage was just an overnight stop, on the reef called Los Palanquinos, where Stein was sent out to spear the dinner, and did just that, while Jessica and I went snail-hunting on one of the small islets, inspired by Maria’s soup, and managed to collect a half-bucket of sea-snails, as well as having a great snorkel among al kinds of colourful reef-fish. The snails were later boiled, and simmered with onions, mushrooms and tomatoes, made a delicious dish.
Our last anchorage on this round was the small island of Cayo Herradura, which Stein and I had already found out, takes one and a quarter hours to walk round. It was just as beautiful as we remembered, with its long white beach and emerald waters. Here we had planned a 10 hour walk, Jessica was happy to do one round with us, then she watched our heads bobbing up and down in different parts of the island as we did the other seven rounds. A bit boring, to be honest!
We got ready for another night sail back to the mainland on 20th March. This time, we changed the genoa to a smaller jib, knowing what the nights were like, and this was a wise move, as the wind was even brisker, abut 23-24 knots for the first part of the night, so the jib and a fully reefed main sail was all we needed. It was nice to get into the peaceful marina in the morning after another bumpy ride. We had a dinner invitation for the same night. Maria, Felix had already returned to their flat in the town, and we spent a pleasant evening with them and her brother Fernando, with good food and wine in their apartment with spectacular views over Puerto La Cruz. The next day it was time to say goodbye to Jessica. She had been, as we had imagined, an easy guest, interested and curious about everything, shells, fish, stars, etc., and it made us enjoy these two weeks more than we would have done otherwise, seeing everything with renewed enthusiasm. Keep well, Jessica, and come again!

The third visit to Isla la Tortuga

We had hoped to be off again the same day, but the bureaucracy in Venezuela can take a little time. We needed a new cruising permit, which are only given for 6 months at a time. Almost all the foreign yachts use an agent to do this, and the one at the marina said it would take at least 5 days. Fortunately, we were saved by Fernando, who has done some of this work before, and he managed to get the paper we needed from the port captain in one day. So it was 23rd March when we left at dusk for our last sail to Tortuga, this time with the wind up to 27 knots! After crashing along at 9 knots for a few hours, we had to take down the main sail and roll in most of the jib to go slow enough not to arrive in the dark. This week we chose only to go to Playa Caldera for the last training effort, and had planned two dawn to dusk treks along the north coast of the island. My knee is not quite right after a cartilage operation in November, so I have been a bit anxious about it, but surprisingly it doesn’t seem to get worse with all this plodding, so I hope it holds out for the event itself. We are at any rate as fit now for walking as we will ever be!
We had brought more DVD action films for Moncho and his amigos, these were gratefully received, and he got us a lovely big piece of grouper (moro) in return. Otherwise no drama this time, just as well, so we could concentrate on the training. On our last trip back to the mainland we had become wiser, and left at 2.30 a.m. missing the windiest part of the night, and as we were running with the breeze, this time we had a lovely gentle sail to Caranero, arriving in the middle of the day on the 31st March. We were lifted out the next morning in a 100 ton travel-lift. So that is our adventure over for this time. A taxi is coming to pick us up at 2.30 a.m. to take us to the air-port, giving plenty of time to avoid the morning rush in Caracas, which apparently begins very early and is horrific. We will be in Morocco from 7th to 18th April, then a few days in Britain seeing some old friends, before going back home to Kristiansand, where we will both be working through the summer.
We will be back here on 13th September to continue sailing, but will put in a short report on the Sahara Marathon (Marathon Des Sable) later this month, so you can hear abut what trials and tribulations that will bring!

Albert Hinkson 1927 – 2005

While in Tortuga, we got the sad news that an old friend, Albert, had died in Bequia, St. Vincent Grenadines. Stein first met Albert in Barbados in 1978, when he came for a medical consultation. Later that year we sailed with kids and Steins parents to Bequia in Red Admiral, the first of many visits to him and his wife Angie at their restaurant and boutique, The Whaleboner. In April last year we were there with Eli on White Admiral. We always had a good time with them and their daughter Ruth. On our last visit it was touching to see what a new lease of life his grandchildren had given him, especially Christian whom he and Angie were adopting. We knew that Albert had been the manager of a supermarket in Florida until he came to Bequia and began a new life with Angie, what we didn’t know until we got a report from his well attended funeral (including the Prime Minister) was that he was an early defender of black people’s rights, employing blacks and getting into trouble with the Ku Klux Klan.
So apart from the hospitable, friendly and artistic person we knew, Albert Hinkson was a man of principle, and we are proud to have known him

06 Apr 2005 by Stein & Diana